The 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff grid and regular season championship were decided in dramatic fashion Friday night as A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric took their season-long battle for the latter quite literally to the finish. In a wild overtime, the two ran and slammed coming to the line with a sideways Allmendinger crossing it in first to win the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Noah Gragson, winner of the two most recent races, started on the pole and led the first four laps before Daniel Hemric took the position. Brett Moffitt, back after missing the previous week at Richmond with an illness, saw his return come to an abrupt halt and his playoff hopes disappear when he crashed after nine laps. Shortly before the competition caution, Justin Allgaier became the new leader and would hold the position to the stage win. Hemric, Gragson, Justin Haley, Sam Mayer, Allmendinger, Cindric, Brandon Jones, Ty Gibbs, and Harrison Burton rounded out the top ten.
Allgaier continued to lead for the early portion of Stage #2 until B.J. McLeod and Tommy Joe Martins wrecked on lap 104. Hemric re-assumed the lead for the restart and maintained the spot through two more cautions for Spencer Boyd, Jade Buford, and Matt Mills‘ accident (which resulted in Mills throwing a water bottle) and another involving Allgaier and Joe Graf Jr. Mills expressed his regret for the bottle toss, explaining on Twitter that he was “[j]ust aggravated” as he had “lost brakes going into 3 and ran into 52 (Gray Gaulding) and was trying to slow up and get out of the way cause the pedal was stuck to the floor and I get ran over by the 90 car (Boyd) who is 4 laps down.” By the end of the stage, Hemric led Allgaier, Gragson, Haley, Cindric, Allmendinger, Gibbs, Jones, Ryan Sieg, and Jeb Burton.
Mayer paced the field to the final segment start, and continued to lead across Carson Ware‘s lap 199 spin before Cindric passed him. Cindric led eight laps before Martins turned David Starr, likely in retaliation for the latter slowing him coming to the stage finish at Richmond and ruining his hopes at a stage win. Martins remarked on Twitter that he was “[s]orry I’m not sorry” for the spin.
Cindric continued to lead and appeared poised to pull away with the regular season championship when Mayer was spun by JR Motorsports team-mate Allgaier and collected Josh Williams with three laps before the checkered flag to set up overtime. The session began with a strong restart by Cindric on the outside line as Allgaier followed, while Allmendinger rode the inside. Contact between Cindric and Allmendinger coming to the white flag allowed Allgaier to force a three-wide battle and briefly spar with Cindric before more bumping dropped him back and into Riley Herbst, sinking his win hopes.
Allmendinger capitalised on the Cindric/Allgaier contact by committing to the inside and clearing them on the backstretch. A desperate move by Cindric on the inside exiting turn four enabled him to shrink the margin before the two hit each other as they approached the finish, sending them drifting across the finish. By a gap of just .082 seconds, Allmendinger slid across the line in first before the two hit the pit wall, sending Allmendinger back up the track where he was impacted by multiple cars.
Despite the chaos, Allmendinger secured his fourth win of the year, first of his career at Bristol, and the regular season title by ten points (1,043 to Cindric’s 1,033). Herbst’s third-place finish was enough to get him into the playoffs as the eleventh seed while Jeremy Clements finished thirteenth, one spot ahead of fellow playoff rival Brandon Brown, to clinch the twelfth and final spot; it is Clements’ first playoff appearance.
“I expected to get run into,” said Allmendinger. “It happened that previous corner. It’s frustrating getting hit that hard coming to checker, but we’re battling for the win. It’s Bristol, baby. That’s what it’s all about.”
“What happened on the last lap? The short summary is short track racing,” Cindric commented. “The long summary is a lot of contact. Five Star Bodies definitely made their money’s worth today. I’m surprised we were able to not cut a tyre down in that situation, but just a lot of hard racing, a lot of guys wanted to win the race. I feel like, and I say with confidence, we were probably the ones that deserved to, but that’s not how these play out with these green-white-checkers and sometimes you’re vulnerable. […]
“[The last-corner move] was the exact same thing A.J. did on the bottom of turn four the lap prior, just gassing up out of desperation. I would say it was a bit desperate, but monkey see, monkey do in that situation.”
|1||10||16||A.J. Allmendinger||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|2||9||22||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford||306||Running|
|3||8||98||Riley Herbst||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||306||Running|
|4||2||7||Justin Allgaier||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|5||16||19||Brandon Jones||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||306||Running|
|6||5||11||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|7||6||20||Harrison Burton||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||306||Running|
|8||17||2||Myatt Snider||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|9||22||8||Sam Mayer||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|10||4||18||Daniel Hemric||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||306||Running|
|11||3||54||Ty Gibbs||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||306||Running|
|12||1||9||Noah Gragson||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|13||13||51||Jeremy Clements||Jeremy Clements Racing||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|14||11||68||Brandon Brown||Brandonbilt Motorsports||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|15||31||23||Ty Dillon||Our Motorsports||Chevrolet||305||Running|
|16||32||31||Sage Karam||Jordan Anderson Racing||Chevrolet||305||Running|
|17||36||07||Joe Graf Jr.||SS-Green Light Racing||Chevrolet||305||Running|
|18||39||52||Gray Gaulding||Jimmy Means Racing||Chevrolet||305||Running|
|19||14||36||Alex Labbé||DGM Racing||Chevrolet||305||Running|
|20||18||92||Josh Williams||DGM Racing||Chevrolet||305||Running|
|21||21||26||Brandon Gdovic||Sam Hunt Racing||Toyota||305||Running|
|22||27||5||Stefan Parsons||B.J. McLeod Motorsports||Toyota||304||Running|
|23||23||44||Tommy Joe Martins||Martins Motorsports||Chevrolet||304||Running|
|24||7||10||Jeb Burton||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||303||Running|
|25||29||0||Jeffrey Earnhardt||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet||303||Running|
|26||37||15||B.J. McLeod*||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet||303||Running|
|27||30||48||Jade Buford #||Big Machine Racing||Chevrolet||302||Running|
|28||25||78||Jesse Little||B.J. McLeod Motorsports||Chevrolet||302||Running|
|29||19||47||Kyle Weatherman||Mike Harmon Racing||Chevrolet||301||Running|
|30||24||66||David Starr||MBM Motorsports||Toyota||300||Running|
|31||33||90||Spencer Boyd*||DGM Racing||Chevrolet||298||Running|
|32||34||17||Carson Ware||SS-Green Light Racing||Chevrolet||297||Running|
|33||38||61||Chad Finchum||MBM Motorsports||Toyota||282||Running|
|34||12||39||Ryan Sieg||RSS Racing||Ford||259||Fuel Pump|
|35||15||1||Josh Berry||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet||215||Running|
|36||26||99||Matt Mills||B.J. McLeod Motorsports||Chevrolet||108||Accident|
|37||28||6||Ryan Vargas||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet||94||Brakes|
|38||40||74||Bayley Currey*||Mike Harmon Racing||Chevrolet||53||Brakes|
|39||35||4||Landon Cassill||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet||40||Electrical|
|40||20||02||Brett Moffitt||Our Motorsports||Chevrolet||9||Accident|
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Xfinity points